the 1960s to the end of the 1970s and early 80s our union, SITRAP, maintained
its strength. We had 16 collective agreements with 16 different companies
in this region. The trade union movement in general strengthened throughout
the country. As a consequence of this, some so-called "thinkers"
or "intellectuals" decided that the unions had to be killed
off. That's how the current solidarismo movement was born in this country.
It is promoted by the Social School of John XXIII (Escuela Social de
Juan XXIII) which, unfortunately, was given the name of a Pope. However,
we don't think it's an appropriate name given what it has done in Costa
Rica. There was a witch-hunt against the trade union movement and SITRAP
was one of unions which was severely affected. It effectively consisted
of sacking our members. We were, at that time, present in 25 plantations,
with 16 collective agreements. We had a core of more than 550 trained
people who were leading the union's activities within each plantation.
They were the first victims. The companies supported by the Escuela
Social Juan XXIII, started to dismiss these workers and - just as bad
from our point of view - replacing them with workers who were obliged
to affiliate to solidarismo. From then on, the union experienced a difficult
period where we almost went down to zero membership affiliates - nobody
paying subs - or only clandestine affiliates who couldn't appear on
the payroll and therefore couldn't be counted. SITRAP experienced great
difficulties in being able to react and difficulties in financing ourselves.
strengthened during the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. This meant
that we had to work at international as well as national level, because
in Costa Rica our voices fell on deaf ears, ignored by the authorities.
The press didn't listen to the issues raised by the union so that's
how we started to make international contacts which allowed us to condemn
the situation at international level. Then we fought so that there would
be respect for trade unions. You have to remember that in this country
you have to be aware of the important clauses in the Constitution which
guarantee trade union freedom. These are taken directly from the ILO
conventions and should be implemented. You also have to remember that
the Labour Code clearly establishes the right of workers to belong to
a trade union. In spite of this, the government and the authorities
have ignored all these issues and the companies have done exactly as
they pleased in this country.
In recent years, it's been a real struggle to get workers to join us,
which has brought us difficult times. We've had to develop strategies
not only here, but outside the country. We have been forced to strongly
denounce the situation.
we've been obliged to denounce the environmental impact of banana monoculture
which has been imposed in a vulnerable area like this. The Atlantic
region is a coastal area on the Caribbean Sea and the water from the
banana plantations has no where else to go, so pollutes the marine wealth
which we have here in the Caribbean - such as the Carey, Baula and Lora
turtles, our coral reefs in Cahuita, the fish stocks
. The majority
of the population of the Atlantic coast live from fishing so the expansion
of banana production has caused a great deal of damage to this ecologically
vulnerable area. In recent years we've been condemning these two issues
which affect us in the union. This is a campaign which we maintain to
the present day.
that what the companies do is play games, as we would say here - take
part in a pantomime, or theatre or something like that - pretending
that they are doing one thing when in fact they are doing another. We've
had to make it known at government and international level that the
banana companies engage in "double speak" when it comes to
social conditions and the environment.
struggle continues. The most important thing is that we've managed to
get the companies to respect some workers. We have been able to create
small "beach-head" groups, who can receive training and bring
in new members where they work. They can initiate work which they can
extend to other plantations.
recently, perhaps most interestingly, is the pact that we've made with
a few national producers, who have always been dependent on the trans-national
companies. We've made them realise that for us the key issues are the
workers and their lives, our land, the environment, because the day
that the trans-nationals leave our country we'll be the ones left living
here with what they've left us: destruction, the disfigurement of human
beings, the destruction of our environment. One of trade union successes
recently has been that some national banana producers have understood
this, such as at Oro Verde, Carolina and Maryland plantations. They
are willing to work with us, hand in hand, to find an independent market
and at the same time bettering the social, economic and environmental
conditions in which the workers produce bananas. This is really important
for us to be able to benefit from what you could say is a trend in Europe,
where people are interested in buying "ethical" bananas. I
say thanks to all the work being done in Europe just now by consumer
groups looking for ethically produced bananas, produced under good social
conditions which don't damage the environment. In this sense, our struggle
most recent agreement that we have signed is with Chiquita, at national
and Latin American level which regulates some aspects of the work. We
think that from here on in we can move onto a new era for the trade
union movement in the banana industry. If the companies, in this case
Chiquita, respect the agreement we've signed, and other companies understand
that they can't carry on producing bananas at the cost of the workers,
at the cost of their loss of health - including the deaths of workers
- at the cost of the environment, the air, the water and our seas -
then we could surely reach a new working relationship between companies
and trade unionists whereby we are able to live together in peace.
struggle is not about throwing any of the banana companies out of the
country. Not at all; it's about them being able to produce this delicious
dessert which consumers eat in Europe - and throughout the world - in
humane conditions and in harmony with the environment without destroying
what resources we have to survive.
Rica is a very small country, bathed by two beautiful seas full of riches.
Whatever damage is done to this strip of land which we call Central
America could completely destroy our seas not just here, but internationally.
Whatever damage we cause to human beings are the consequences which
we will have created for future generations. It's up to us to fulfil
our responsibilities and not to leave everything behind, in ruins, for
future generations. We have to fight, with our lives, if necessary so
that future generations are able to live with dignity, that they have
a healthier environment and that they have a life with better living
conditions so that they can raise their children in a beautiful country,
just like the one we dream about having. Costa Rica is a hugely rich
country, incredibly beautiful, which we love and appreciate, but because
we love the country so much we're willing do whatever it takes to look
after it, as much for its inhabitants as for the environment in which
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